A female rhino that was killed with its calf by poachers at a Gauteng nature reserve was pregnant and due to give birth in three months.
The 25-year-old cow, known as Big Queenstown because she came that town in the Eastern Cape, was left lying next to her dead two-year-old calf with her horn sliced off.
The calf's horn, however, was untouched - something which puzzles the owners of the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve in Kromdraai, who found the two dead rhinos on Saturday morning.
"The calf had a fairly big horn, which was worth about R200 000, but they did not take it. The calf had been with the big female for two years, and I think it was killed when it started interfering with the poachers at work," said reserve owner Ed Hern.
He estimated his loss, including the unborn rhino, to be about R700 000.
After the police had examined the crime scene, the two carcasses were taken away and burnt as they could not be fed to the lions because of the strong sedative the poachers had darted them with to kill them.
Hern said he believed the poachers had used a helicopter to get to the rhinos over the weekend.
"These guys are organised and well equipped. They have the latest guns and ammunition, night-vision equipment, and use small helicopters that can be loaded on the back of a bakkie," he said.
"We have patrol teams throughout the night and have no doubts about our security, but they still managed to hit us this hard."
The killing of the two rhinos comes just hours after South African National Parks (SANParks) released a statement on Friday expressing concern over the "alarming" escalation of rhino poaching.
SANParks said the country had lost 92 rhinos to poaching, the Kruger National Park being the hardest hit with 33, followed by North West and Gauteng with 18 and 12 respectively.
"This thing is spreading like wildfire," said Hern. "This is the first time we've been hit, but other game reserves around us have been hit before, and in almost the same way.
"There is too much money involved in rhino poaching. A horn is worth about $1-million (about R7,5m) by the time it reaches China, where the market is. We try hard and share tips as rhino owners, but it doesn't help much."
Hern is taking care of two 18-month-old orphaned calves that lost their parents to poaching in the Kruger National Park.
"I don't know what, but something needs to be done before we lose our entire rhino population to poaching," he said.
After the killings at the weekend, Hern said they would start keeping their rhinos in a boma overnight with security on site, and only release them into the wild during the day.
According to a SANParks statement , 25 suspected poachers have been arrested this year, 17 of them in the Kruger National Park, five in Gauteng and three in Mpumalanga.
Police said they were still investigating the recent incident at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve. No arrests had been made.